Dear Friends of Centrum,
This quarterly update comes at a wonderfully busy time at Centrum. As I write, 72 fifth-graders from across Washington are registering for “Waterworld,” a weeklong, hands-on exploration of the myriad intersections between the natural world and the creative life. We run this program in collaboration with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.
The fifth-graders arrive as high school writers travel home after devoting five days to the power of the written and spoken word. In part an examination of craft, the high school gathering also challenged students to think beyond self-expression and engage contemporary life in all its cultural and economic complexities.
In two weeks we are bringing Light Motion Dance Company to the Fort to lead an Integrated Dance workshop for physically disabled and non-disabled dancers, May 4-7. This is followed by the Northwest Big Band Workshop (and free concert on May 19). On May 23 and 24 we are co-hosting—along with the Washington State Arts Commission, DASH (Disability Awareness Starts Here) Port Townsend, VSA Arts of Washington and Massachusetts, and the Port Townsend Arts Commission—a free disability access training for arts administrators and arts facilities managers around Washington.
Then the season really kicks in. As a generous member of the Centrum community, you are receiving this information in advance of the general public. Sue Cook, our Box Office Manager, is standing by to take your ticket orders. It is going to be a great summer with five national Heritage Award winners coming to teach and perform and there are many don’t-miss events scheduled. I urge you in particular to hear the masters of sacred steel, country, Hawaiian, old-time, and bluegrass traditions at the “Slide & Steel” celebration, July 15, at McCurdy Pavilion.
On April 1, 250 old and new friends gathered to celebrate Centrum founder Joseph F. Wheeler at an extraordinary “Founder’s Choice Concert” featuring pianist William “Skip” Doppmann. Skip led the Port Townsend Chamber Music Festival from 1975 to 1998. The event was a celebration of both men’s deep commitment to Centrum’s long legacy of artistic excellence.
It was also an afternoon about the future. Renate and Joe Wheeler announced a $100,000 estate gift they have pledged to Centrum, and for the first time we published a list of individuals, couples, and families who have made similar bequests. These Centrum Visionaries are making legacy gifts in honor of traditions that have added richness to their lives and in support of new opportunities for generations to come.
And, speaking of generations to come, six nights later I gathered with the aforementioned young writers to listen to readings by artist faculty. Anis Mojgani, the 2005 Individual National Poetry Slam Champion, was last up. Before he had uttered two lines, this Portland-based performance poet owned the room. It was twenty minutes of grace and exuberance, passion and control, quiet and power that passed in what felt like no time at all. I found myself holding my breath not wanting to miss how Anis was breathing such life into his work.
In the forthcoming premiere issue of Experience: Centrum’s Magazine for the Creative Life, our new artistic director for Fiddle Tunes, Dirk Powell writes, “My ideal message to others is not ‘Listen to this story to learn about me,’ but ‘Listen to this story to learn about yourself.’” That’s what Anis was saying with his poetry and I could tell that every student in the room heard him and will not soon forget the experience.
I leap from Chamber Music, to Slam Poetry, to Fiddle Tunes because that’s what we do at Centrum and because what Dirk has to say about creative and cultural traditions resonates so deeply with our mission:
Young people are ready to make traditional art forms their own in the truest sense. They understand the value of creative expression and it’s up to the preceding generations to give them the means through which they can share their stories with the world. Many of them have been bombarded with heavily branded advertising on an unprecedented scale since before they could walk, and many are rejecting this attempted manipulation of their lives. I think it’s essential to be there for them.
In this spirit, we are extremely pleased to announce that our two first choices to be mentors for the Centrum Youth Leadership Board have enthusiastically accepted our invitations. Pramila Jayapal is an activist and writer, and founder of Hate Free Zone Campaign of Washington, a grassroots nonprofit organization that was created in response to the 9/11 backlash against immigrant communities of color. For the past ten years, she has been actively involved in international and domestic social justice issues, particularly with women's and children's issues. In 1995, she was awarded a two-year fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs to live in villages and towns across India and write about her perspectives on modern Indian society in the context of development and social justice.
Daryl Davis, rock and blues vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and composer has been a performer at the Port Townsend Country Blues Festival and is artistic director for the 2006 Centrum School of Rock. He has played with Chuck Berry, the Jordanaires, Muddy Waters’ Legendary Blues Band, The Coasters, and Bo Diddley, to name a few. Daryl is also an author, whose book Klan-Destin Relationships, chronicles his quest to meet with Ku Klux Klan members and convince them to rescind their beliefs.
The Youth Leadership Board will gather over Veterans’ Day weekend to define, conceive, generate, and promote programs that attract and serve the best young artists and critical thinkers in Washington State. Daryl writes, “As adults, we often quash the dreams of children because our own innovative and risk taking days are behind us. Youth are unafraid to take on new adventures and risks. They will teach us.”
In a focused effort to extend our programming season and build on deeply rooted Centrum traditions, we are offering two additional fall programs. Acclaimed cross-genre musical master Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, and John Clayton will be leading a master class workshop October 5-7, ending with an intimate concert in the Joseph F. Wheeler Theater. Beloved novelist Dorothy Allison will also be offering a master class, October 20-22. Her public reading will be sponsored by the Pride Foundation.
The Fort Worden planning process has shifted into high gear. In March, members of the Fort Worden Planning Advisory Group met for the first time to help shape the planning process. Last week a remarkable team of architects, engineers, artists, financial analysts, and hospitality planners were selected to help gather public input and analyze existing and possible configurations of cultural and recreational programs and businesses at the Fort.
Two firms represented on this consulting team have been involved with successful projects in the Port Townsend area. ARC Architects is finishing restoration of Port Townsend City Hall and SvR Design worked on the successful F Street improvement project. Two team members have past Centrum connections: Barbara Swift, landscape architect, taught a youth creativity workshop in 1987, and artist Ellen Sollod has twice been an artist-in-residence.
This team was the unanimous choice of the interviewers, consisting of Jean Dunbar, George Randels, and Rodger Schmitt of the Fort Worden Advisory Committee; historic preservationist Dave Hansen; Fort Worden Manager Kate Burke; Washington State Parks Planner Peter Herzog; and me. The particular expertise the consulting team will bring to the process impressed all of us, but it was the enthusiasm with which they spoke about Fort Worden that convinced us that they understand how beloved a place this is and that they will respect its history, its environment, and the community that cares so deeply about it.
Continuing along this theme of revitalization and caring community, we celebrated the renovation of another of our “Suds” units. Cindy and Ken McBride led a team to take on the last (and undoubtedly most challenging) of the five houses we rent from Fort Worden to house Centrum artists and performers. The transformation was spectacular. Sadly, Cindy took no “before” pictures; I think the place was just too depressing. But those of us who remember what it looked like were stunned by what had been done and by the resourcefulness, generosity, and good taste of the volunteer team. The last three apartments in the “Four-plex” will undergo a makeover next fall/winter to complete the re-do of all nine housing units by Centrum volunteers.
I continue to be amazed by the volunteers who make Centrum work. We have been so lucky to be guided by our Disability Access Committee and the entire DASH organization as we adjust what we do and how we do it to be more welcoming to people with disabilities. DASH recently led an all-day ADA training for its board and Centrum and Park staff at Fort Worden Chapel. On April 19, Kate Burke and I are participating in DASH’s Assume-a-Disability event at Fort Worden. The next night DASH and Centrum are co-sponsoring the Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble Disability Performance at the USO, 7-9 pm.
Jamie Parker and Emily Mandelbaum helped us shop for a whole new assisted listening system for our performances and workshops. We are setting up a new information center for our public performances at which the listening devices will be available along with specially trained volunteers who can help individuals with various special needs.
Planning for the 2006 Centrum Gala is well underway under the wonderful leadership of Bickie Steffan and Jean Marzan. “An Evening in Paradise” will feature an array of tropical surprises and delights as well as a performance you will not want to miss by our new auctioneer Laura Michalek. Many thanks go to thirty members of the Gala Host Committee who have agreed to fill tables with friends and supporters and to twenty-five committee chairs who will work with 100 volunteers to make the evening happen. Call Mary Hilts at Centrum, ext. 116 if you would like to join the Gala team.
Speaking of volunteering, the annual Centrum volunteer orientation is scheduled for Tuesday, April 25 in Building 204 upstairs from 5:30 to 6:30pm. This is your chance to sip some wine, enjoy some hors d’oeuvres, get a preview of the summer season, meet old and new friends, and sign up to be part of the action. Also mark your calendar for the RE/MAX Benefit Golf Tournament on June 3 at the Discovery Bay Golf Course. Under the generous leadership of Dick and Nancy Stelow, they will have prizes for pros and duffers alike.
I am finishing this letter just in time to walk over and welcome the fifth-graders, who by now have finished their dinner and are gathering with buzzing expectation in the USO Building. I wish you could be here to feel the energy in the room. Please know how grateful I am – we all are – for the support you offer that makes such gatherings possible.
Thank you so much,